The Disruption of Higher Education December 2019
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Very few industries have successfully fended off the need for significant change for as long as the higher-education industry has. Most other industries have seen transformations of various degrees, and some of them have seen utter disruption. Most professors have felt no need to change their ways, lecturing from the same notes for many years and ignoring calls to embrace new and more effective approaches to teaching and learning. The grace period for academia might be over, and new approaches are challenging traditional teaching methods.
The flipped-classroom model has gained interest in many countries in recent years. In the flipped-classroom model, students view videos of lectures at home (where they can rewind sections with challenging concepts) and then come into class for discussions with other students and the professor and to learn how to apply and use the concepts the video lectures introduce. Recently, students at the Norwegian School of Economics (Bergen, Norway) demonstrated against a policy of the university's leadership to cut back on recordings of lectures. Whereas businesses are trying to focus more on customers and better meet their needs, this concept is still foreign to many university administrators with professors who continue to resist change. These professors want to continue to lecture and maintain control of teaching sessions instead of becoming part of a team that creates new, engaging, and effective learning activities for students.
As the September 2019 Signal of Change, "The Future of Learning" discusses, change is coming to the education sector, and resisting change can become costly. Students today have an expanding variety of options to avoid institutions that fail to meet their—and increasingly, their employers'—needs. More and more universities may be facing the same fate as that of Newbury College (Brookline, Massachusetts), which recently had to close its doors because of high tuition costs and lackluster educational outcomes (among other problems). Universities can no longer afford to ignore the marketplace and the constituencies they serve. Indeed, even universities that currently receive most of their funding from governments are coming under increasing pressure.
Many of the emerging pressures and changes that will contribute to the disruption of the higher-education industry in the coming years will fall under the term lifelong learning, which refers to individuals' committing to continuous learning for personal reasons or to ensure they are able to adapt to rapid changes in the workplace and work environment. Employers in need of talented and skilled workers who can learn quickly and reskill or upskill as new business (and technology) needs arise are increasingly sending employees to academic institutions. These employers are willing to pay at least part of the tuition if the academic institutions offer work-related skills and competences. In addition, the academic institutions must offer short courses that do not take employees away from work for very long, and they increasingly must offer online courses and other flexibilities for the convenience of the employees (many of whom will do much of their studying at home). To create such learning opportunities for employees, companies such as Discover Financial Services (Riverwoods, Illinois), PricewaterhouseCoopers International (London, England), Starbucks Corporation (Seattle, Washington), the Walt Disney Company (Burbank, California), and Walmart (Bentonville, Arkansas) have set up partnerships with universities. Arizona State University's (Tempe, Arizona) online division, which has one of the largest online learning populations in the United States, has been very successful in setting up new degree programs for working adults at these companies.
An increasing number of academic institutions recognize that forming strategic partnerships with companies is one way to avoid—or at least postpone—being disrupted by an emerging ecosystem of competitors and put out of business. Many of these institutions are working with companies to cocreate courses in areas such as data science, analytics, statistics, coding, and business communications, which are areas of growing need for many companies.
Massive open online courses (MOOCs) and other online-learning alternatives are not receiving the same attention from the media that they did a few years ago; however, online learning is still seeing growth, and MOOC providers are creating new MOOC degrees that meet strong industry demand and needs. For example, Coursera and Udacity (both Mountain View, California) provide short courses that students can take to acquire achievements (Specializations from Coursera and Nanodegrees from Udacity) in particular skills and capabilities that companies might want new hires to have. Universities recognize that online courses and even full online degrees must now become an important element of academic services to meet the needs of both students who require flexible learning arrangements and companies that may want to subsidize the learning activities of their employees. Some universities have been able to offer master's degrees through online programs that cost much less than do traditional campus-based programs. In addition, online programs tend to attract more diverse students than do traditional programs, because they are less expensive and the distance between students and a school is not a factor. Examples of newcomers' and many traditional universities' making early use of technological capabilities are starting to convince some schools that they no longer need to operate high-cost, campus-based programs when they can have equal or greater success by operating just online programs. In a recent development, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Urbana and Champaign, Illinois) announced that it planned to shut down its full-time and part-time residential master-of-business-administration (MBA) programs to focus on its iMBA online MBA program. As online-education players gain experience and continue to innovate, building better and more innovative online platforms, their offerings will generate interest and receive increasing attention—even from traditional schools that want to use those offerings in their own operations. For example, in 2013, the Minerva Project (San Francisco, California) and the Keck Graduate Institute (KGI; Claremont, California) partnered to create the Minerva Schools at KGI (San Francisco, California) university program, which has since improved its online-learning platform and will be licensing it to other organizations.
The trends and developments this Signal of Change discusses are so far most pronounced in the United States, where market forces have a more direct impact on educational institutions than they do in countries where the government dominates the higher-education industry. But the changing learning landscape will become a global phenomenon, as will the disruption of institutions that are unwilling to make the changes necessary to meet students' and employers' needs.